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What is Washed Rind Cheese?

A Stinky Cheese for a Serious Cheese Lover

Strong in aroma, but varied in flavor and texture, washed rind cheeses are for the serious cheese lover.  For some people, the more stinky the washed rind cheese the better, and we definitely applaud them for their adventurous palate.

But what gives washed rind cheese its signature rind color and aroma? The exterior of the cheeses are washed with salt-water solution (brine) that is occasionally blended with beer, wine, and cider for additional flavor characteristics.  This consistent washing of a brine solution can happen once a day, once a week, or once a month - and the washing attracts salt-loving bacteria called haleophiles. These salt-loving bacteria give washed rind cheeses their distinct orange hue and pungent aroma.  A popular haleophile bacteria found in washed rind cheeses is called b.linens, but it is important to note that there are a variety of salt-loving bacteria at work on the rind of a washed rind cheese.

winnimere spruce bark wrapped cheese

Featured in this photo: Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farm

Origins of Washed Rind Cheese

One of the origins of washed rind cheese began with Trappist monks who had also taken up the production of Trappist ale in their monasteries. The production of beer and cheese was started as an additional source of funds for monasteries.  An example of this is the Belgian Chimay beer and Chimay cheese started in 1862.  The monks would transform fresh, non-soured milk into curd with cultures and enzymes and then drain the cheese in forms to make them dense enough to wash with a Chimay beer and salt solution as they ripened in their caves for a few weeks.  

Factors that Effect Ripening

Since the milk used in making washed rind cheese was fresh and non-soured (unlike the soured, acidic milk housewives used for Camembert), it naturally attracted the right salt-loving bacteria.  The acidity level of the curd and milk when making cheese is essential to attracting the right type of bacteria, molds, and fungus.

The longer term origins of washed-rind styles also came from a preservation mentality - salt slows down and regulates the rate of fermentation in foods, and so naturally by washing cheeses in salt-water solutions, they could keep their cheese fresher for longer.

taleggio

Proper Humidity

Soft, spreadable washed rind cheeses like Willoughby, Epoisses, or Taleggio often have a very sticky rind, so they require higher levels of humidity in order to preserve that delicate sticky quality. We recommend storing the cheese in a humid climate of 80% to preserve the integrity of the rind.

fontina

Featured in this photo: Fontina Val D'Aosta

Dry Environment

The denser style of washed rind cheeses such as Raclette and Fontina can withstand dryer climates, but their rind does have a tendency to crack and lose its signature characteristics when stored under 80% humidity.

Best Way to Store Washed Rind Cheeses

The Cheese Grotto was designed specifically with this style of cheese in mind. The Cheese Grotto provides that balance of humidity, airflow, and natural materials to allow washed rind cheese to thrive. You'll notice the rind will keep its signature texture and flavor if the Grotto is stored on the kitchen counter or in the fridge.

If the Grotto is out of your budget currently, we recommend you consult the 3 Best Ways to Store Cheese article!

How to Serve Washed Rind Cheeses

It is always, always recommended to let your cheese come to room temperature before you enjoy it.  The experience is so vastly different, it is a shame to do otherwise.  And, of course, serve the cheese with its beautiful rind full of flavors of peanuts, hay, and earth - it's nature's compliment to the paste of the cheese which is often more subtly creamy and meaty than its pungent rind counterpart. 

Pairing Food and Wine with Washed Rind Cheese

Washed rind cheese often pairs well with white and medium-bodied red wines.  If the washed rind cheese is more creamy, spreadable and briney, we recommend a medium-bodied, funky, mineral Pinot Grigio (see Pinot Grigio and Cheese Pairing Notes Here).  If the washed rind cheese is little older and denser with deep nuttiness and notes of garlic, a juicy, berry pinot noir is always a good choice.

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    Hardware

    If you have purchased cheese hardware from our Grotto collection, it usually takes us 1 to 3 business days to ship your order, unless otherwise listed on the respective product page.

    Cheese Orders

    As the cheeses are a fresh product, we want to ensure the quickest transit time as possible, so your order arrives in the best possible condition.  Express shipping costs range from $25 - $55 depending on the package size, delivery window, location and carrier. We ship Mondays only each week, and orders must be placed by Thursday the week prior to be included in Monday's shipments.  If you purchased a cheese subscription with a set shipping schedule (Meet the Makers or any Gift Subscription), please refer to the respective product page for the fixed shipping schedule.

    Please note: cheese ships from our cheese warehouse and hardware ships from our hardware warehouse. If you are purchasing both hardware and cheese, there will be a shipping charge for the cheese portion of your order.

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    We are sorry, but we aren't legally allowed to ship cheese across the US border!  We can, however, ship our hardware from our Grotto collection worldwide.  Please note that the shipping costs options you see at checkout do not include customs, duties, and taxes which will be billed to you upon reaching the border, and will be an additional expense.  Those costs vary from country to country, but we recommend calculating at an additional 20% charge. If you refuse the package due to these additional fees and the hardware is returned to us, we will be able to issue a refund minus the outbound and return shipping costs.